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The Geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef: Development, Diversity, and Change (Hopley, Smithers, and Parnell)

The Geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef: Development, Diversity, and Change. 2007. David Hopley, Scott G. Smithers, Kevin Parnell. Published by Cambridge University Press, New York. viii + 532 p. ISBN 978-0-521-85302-6

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The authors have assembled between two covers an amazing diversity of topics that comprehensively cover the geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) off the Queensland coast, northeast Australia. The book is divided into 13 chapters with references grouped into one large bibliography at the end of the book. Grouping all references together, instead of at the end of each chapter, avoids duplication and facilitates location of authors' works. With about 20 citations listed per page, the 49-page reference list works out to nearly 1000 references. To say that the authors have done their homework on the subject would be an understatement. In this respect, the book is comprehensive and complete. There are geographic and subject indexes following the reference list. The reference list and meticulous indexes make this book an essential reference for coral reef researchers.

Chapters in the book are as follows: (1) Geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef, (2) Foundations of the Great Barrier Reef, (3) Sea Level: A Primary Control of Long-Term Reef Growth and Geomorphological Development, (4) Oceanography, Hydrodynamics, Climate, and Water Quality as Influences on Reef Geomorphological Processes, (5) Spatial Analysis of the Morphology of the Reefs and Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, (6) The Non-Reefal Areas of the Continental Shelf, (7) Fringing and Nearshore Coral Reefs, (8) The Mid-Shelf Reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, (9) The Coral Reefs of the Outer Shelf of the Great Barrier Reef, (10) Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, (11) The Accumulation of the Holocene Veneer to the Great Barrier Reef, (12) The Holocene Evolution of the Great Barrier Reef Province, and (13) Geomorphology's Contribution to the Understanding and Resolution of Environmental Problems of the Great Barrier Reef. Perusal of chapter titles offers a synoptic view of the breadth of coverage and would probably dissuade most skeptics who might think the book is not comprehensive. There are indeed few topics within the purview of reef geomorphology that are not discussed.

Going through the chapters, I was reminded of a couple other books, namely Hopley (1982) and Guilcher (1988) both of whom reported on the geomorphology of coral reefs. Hopley's 1988 book, entitled The Geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef: Quaternary Development of Coral Reefs, is clearly the forerunner of the present volume that is now updated and expanded, nearly a quarter of a century later. Inclusion of new coauthors helped synthesize a holistic view of the GBR and present the current understanding of the GBR. The present work is a nice complement to the Guilcher (1988) book dealing with Coral Reef Geomorphology. This new volume by Hopley, Smithers, and Parnell, all at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, is a tribute not only to themselves but also to all coral reef researchers who know the GBR and other coral reef systems around the world. Obviously, there is an abundance of books on coral reefs going back to Darwin and Agassiz, all of which were milestones in their day. The two works cited here were just reminders of two previous efforts.

The book is handsomely produced with a glossy cover and suede-finish paper that makes for a luxurious feel to this high-quality work. There are numerous halftones and line drawings that illustrate the various points in each chapter. There are no color photographs, which would have been nice because the subject matter lends itself to spectacular views. Inclusion of color plates would have increased the cost of the book, which is already somewhat expensive for personal use. Nevertheless, serious researchers will find the cost of the book to be in line with the wealth of material contained therein for this is not a glossy coffee-table picture book but a reference work for research and study.

I read the book fairly carefully, some chapters more so than others because they related to my own work, and I found no typos or obvious glitches in production. No book is perfect, but this one comes close to the mark and is, as near as I can tell, free of defects of any sort. For this, the authors and publishers are to be congratulated for their careful and fastidious work. The no-doubt, sometimes painful effort paid off because this book will probably become a classic in its own time. With that kind of tribute, there is little more than can be asked. I thus recommend the book without any reservations and encourage all those interested in coral reefs the world over to buy this book. Although dealing exclusively with the GBR, the lessons learned are applicable to other reef environments outside of Australia. This book belongs in marine science research libraries worldwide and should be on the shelves of serious coral reef specialists who deal with the myriad aspects of coral reefs, one of the most interesting environments on Earth. With the GBR making up the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms, covering about 344,400 km2 in the Coral Sea, the feature can hardly be ignored. Hopley, Smithers, and Parnell do justice to this natural wonder of the world by exploring its geomorphology and bringing this knowledge to the rest of us in a cogent manner that can be appreciated and absorbed by specialists and nonspecialists alike. Remaining in their debt, the rest of us give thanks and kudos to these researchers for a job well done!

Dr. Charles W. Finkl
West Palm Beach, Florida

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